Why Audiobooks are Lit

Today I’d like to talk about audiobooks because I’ve been on a bit of an audiobook cruise lately. They are one of my favorite ways to share a story together with my children, especially my teens.

Lit 🔥 VS Lit 📚

Speaking of teens, I have to tell you about a funny conversation I had with my second oldest daughter, Hope, the other day. She was commenting on how some particular thing was so lit. This is one of those words I’ve noticed over the past year that has quite comfortably found its place in the teenage vernacular. I like to have fun with my kids, so I played dumb by clarifying, “Oh, you mean lit like short for literature?”

Hope replied with a confused and cockeyed look, “Ummm, no…. It’s lit like on fire, like something that’s really cool.”

Putting on my English nerd hat, I insisted, “No, lit is short for literature. You know, like Brit lit or American lit.”

“No, mom. You don’t get it! Lit DOES NOT mean that! It’s means really cool,” Hope emphatically corrected me.

“Nope,” I countered, trying to hide my smirk, “I’m pretty sure that expression is short for literature. So if something is lit , it’s noteworthy, it’s worth writing down… it’s classic! Like classic lit! Get it?!”

“Ugh! No!” Hope countered (with a trace of doubt in her rolling eyes), “I know it doesn’t mean that because I always see a flame emoji used with it! It’s like something that’s really exciting and rad! Like, ‘That party was lit.’” Well, she had me there. The flame emoji sealed her case. But I had to give it one more stab.

“Exactly!” I ribbed, “‘That party was lit,’ like it was so worth writing about; it was classic, like I’d better go write it down in my journal so I don’t forget about it!”

The conversation ended with Hope rolling her eyes in exasperation and me confessing I was just trying to get a rise out of her. This is part of the fun with having teens. They can hold their own with the jokes and can even laugh at the dry humor coming from their English major mom. And I can appreciate the totally expected and exaggerated rolling of her eyes. Ahh, teens… I love them!

So, getting back to the topic at hand, I guess you could say, to use the word so completely embraced by my daughter, Audiobooks are LIT! … in more ways than one, right!?!

But aren’t audiobooks cheating?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been cruising through several audiobooks with my teen girls lately. What I love is the idea that we are reading together with our ear canals! Say what?!! You read right! We are reading with our ears rather than our eyes. As often as we can, we find the audiobook version for their current assigned book. Now before you think that’s cheating, hear me out! (I used to wonder about that, too!) I’ve learned that audiobooks are more beneficial than one would think, so I’d like to share the truth about them!

When you think audiobook, I want you to think read aloud time. Reading aloud to your kids promotes literacy. Audiobooks are just another convenient, and hugely entertaining, way to get in read aloud time for you and your kids. Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing believes that reading aloud to your children is an essential requirement to develop them into excellent communicators.

Benefits of “Reading with Your Ears”

With that note, let’s embrace this idea that we can “read” with our ears. So many amazing connections take place in the brain while listening to quality literature being read out loud. These benefits are worth considering!

Increases Reading Comprehension

Especially true for struggling readers, listening to an audiobook takes away the frustration of decoding words. When they listen, they no longer have to work so hard at their decoding skills but can focus instead on the actual storyline. Getting a child hooked on a good story is likely to create a true love of books.

Even true for the competent reader, audiobooks provide a way to mutually experience a story. Being able to talk about the story builds comprehension. I just wrapped up The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom with my 9th and 10th grade daughters not too long ago. Listening to the audiobook together provided time to pause and discuss the weighty issues that faced Corrie and her family during the Nazi occupation in Poland.

Last school year, we had so much fun listening to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express read by Kenneth Branagh. If you’re familiar with Christie’s mysteries, you know there are often a slough of characters to keep track of along with many different clues. Did you realize there are several famous actors who will read for audiobooks. Branagh’s performance was stellar. He took care to use a different voice for each character, using perfect accents for each one. (As a side note, we thoroughly enjoyed watching the 2017 movie of Murder on the Orient Express starring Branagh himself as detective Hercule Poirot.) We were so entertained by Agatha Christie’s mystery thriller that we then listened to And Then There Were None. These books are so fun and if you plan to solve the mystery, you can even take notes while you listen!

Builds Vocabulary

As children listen to a book being read aloud, they can focus solely on the context of the story. When they hear an unfamiliar word, rather than grappling with the decoding, they get to hear it in context and are thus more likely to comprehend the meaning of that word.

To expand on that note, take yourself back to when you first read a Shakespeare play. Plays are meant to be acted and spoken out. Imagine listening to the audio version read by a skilled actor while you’re following along in the script of a Shakespeare play. The actor can proficiently nail the inflection and intonation of the complex Shakespearean language. Think of the depth that would bring to comprehending the plot line, dialogue, and outdated word choice. Compare that to reading Shakespeare with a flat and monotonous tone of a kid who’s reading it for the first time. I am certain that much more of the vocabulary would stick when hearing it spoken with expression.

Improves Listening Skills

Listening to audiobooks eliminates the temptation to skip or skim through chunks of the book. In fact, Andrew Pudewa claims, “It’s the age at which children start to read independently more that they most need to be read to at a level above their own decoding skills.” Why? Because the more fluent of a reader they become, kids, much like adults, will want to read quickly and skip stuff. As Pudewa states, “Great lit is written to be savored.” I found this to be true while listening to Robinson Crusoe last fall. If I were to have read this book out loud with my teens, I fear the lengthy, descriptive passages would have been interrupted by my relentless yawning… not a great way to convince them to continue on!

Reading aloud, much like listening to an audiobook, “builds a database of grammatically correct and sophisticated language patterns” according to Pudewa. When we listen to a story, so many brain connections are being made as we absorb these reliably correct language patterns that are coming in through the ear. Bonus!

Provides a Pleasant Reading Experience

I remember the days of elementary school when we students would grab a mat and circle around the teacher as she read aloud to us. This was a time to escape to another world outside the four walls of the classroom and dive into a magnificent adventure. If you loved being read to as a child, allow yourself as an adult to experience that same childhood thrill. Listen to a great audiobook and be swept away into the story. I think we all long to hear great stories, not unlike the oral tradition of storytelling from long ago. When an audience hears the spoken work, imaginations spark to life.

For a struggling reader, listening to an audiobook allows them to be immediately immersed in the meaning and eliminates the stress and anxiety they feel when trying to decode words. I sure wish I had been turned on to audiobooks earlier in my life, especially when I was teaching high school English. One student, in particular, admitted that he could follow the storyline when I read aloud to the class (and I read aloud to all my students grade 9-12), but when he went home to read the pages I assigned, he struggled and just couldn’t retain the story. He was so frustrated, and I could see how it was affecting his attitude during class. Oh, how I wish I would have thought to ensure there were audio copies available to students for all the books I assigned. I believe many more students would have caught the love of reading.

The Convenience of Audiobooks

Listening to the Hiding Place on our drive to the eye doctor
Listening to The Hiding Place on our drive to the eye doctor

Time is ever fleeting these days as I teach my 10th, 9th and 3rd grade children, and still try to squeeze in time with my preschooler and busy toddler. So how do I find time to snuggle up with the books my high school kids are reading? I couldn’t do it without listening to audiobooks. It’s so much easier to find the time. Here are a few suggestions:

Take them with anywhere.

Whenever we hop in the car to drive longer than a few minutes, which happens often on rural roads, we often make use of the time by listening to our current book. If you’re reading by yourself, pop in your AirPods and listen while you’re in the waiting room, going for a brisk walk, or washing dishes. When David and I were in London last spring, I saw so many people on the Tubes and buses with their headphones on. I always wondered what book, podcast or music might be tickling their ears.

Listen while you work.

One of my least favorite chores is folding laundry, but now I let the loads pile up and save the job for an hour of audiobook story time! I have a hard time just sitting still while listening, and so do my kids. The teens usually grab their iPads and Apple Pencils and work on drawing and making art in Procreate. Some other ideas to keep hands busy while listening to audiobooks at home include Legos, Play-Doh, puzzles, paint by number, knitting/crocheting, and the list goes on and on. Basically, let your kids do anything that can be a quiet activity while they can be attentive listeners. Sometimes I do enjoy just following along in the paperback book while I listen. This would be a great activity for those struggling readers. That way they can see the words while they are hearing the correct pronunciations.

Build a family culture around reading.

Reading can be an activity that the whole family enjoys. We especially love choosing an engaging audiobook when we are loading up for a family road trip. This provides great discussion points while traveling, and it also makes the long drive pass by more enjoyably. There are even some great dramatized audiobooks available that are complete with music and sound effects. Audiobooks don’t need to be saved for only family road trips. They also make for great entertainment at home when you’re looking for a way to cut down on movie time. During the winter is when we especially love to do this. We brew a cup of hot tea, turn on the fireplace, and snuggle in for the story. It’s a great way to relax together before bedtime. Not only do you get to share great stories together as a family but you also create some intimate and delightful moments.

Get Hooked on Lit!

If it’s been awhile since you’ve enjoyed a good book or you just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and read, maybe it’s time to consider listening to an audiobook. The great thing is you can even borrow a free digital download from your library just like you would with a physical book. Hoopla and Libby are free library apps that are definitely worth checking into. So, go ahead and try a new audiobook! You might just come away from the experience thinking it was pretty lit!

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